Wisconsin Badgers Football: Grading All 22 Starters from the Purdue Game
It was the return of the Wisconsin of old on Saturday afternoon as the Badgers dominated every facet of the game and defeated the Purdue Boilermakers 38-14 in a pivotal Big Ten matchup.
Montee Ball stole the show and the spotlight with a 200-yard rushing performance while breaking Ron Dayne's Big Ten conference touchdown record. Ball now has 72 total touchdowns and moves up to third place in NCAA history.
The Badgers dominated the line of scrimmage and time of possession as Wisconsin proved it is the best of the postseason-eligible teams in the B1G Leaders Division.
Let's hand out the grades for every Wisconsin starter from the Purdue game.
Quarterback: Joel Stave
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Stave wasn't called on to do much thanks to the success of the rushing attack, but he made some big throws early in the game to pace the Wisconsin offense.
He managed to complete just over half of his passes, going 12-of-21 for 178 yards. Stave did connect on a nice touchdown pass with tight end Jacob Pedersen, but he also threw an interception in Purdue's end zone, which was something the Badgers could have done without.
As a freshman, Stave is going to be make mistakes out there. It's just a matter of limiting those miscues, and so far he has done a good job of doing just that.
He helped lead Wisconsin into scoring position in six of the team's first seven drives, mostly thanks to the play-action, and then sat back and watched the running game in the second half.
Not a great performance by any means, but he managed the Badgers offense well.
Running Back: Montee Ball
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It's pretty hard to deny who the MVP was for the Badgers against Purdue.
Montee Ball more than doubled his output from a week ago, carrying the ball 29 times and amassing 247 yards and three touchdowns in one of the more impressive rushing performances we've seen in college football all season.
Ball finally looked like his old self, and he may have finally regained his magic from last season as he has now put up back-to-back performances in which he averaged over six yards a carry.
In the first drive of the second half, Wisconsin solidified its lead when Ball marched for a 67-yard touchdown run, by far his longest rush of the season.
Not only did Ball have a huge day on the ground, but James White also passed the century mark to help give the Badgers a ridiculous 467 rushing yards on the day.
Is Ball back in the Heisman Trophy discussions? He now ranks eighth in the FBS in rushing yards and fourth in rushing touchdowns.
Wide Receivers: Jared Abbrederis, Jordan Fredrick
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The stretch of consecutive 100-yard receiving games ended Saturday for Abbrederis, but he wasn't needed much because of the success of the Badgers' run game.
He was still targeted the most by Stave, and Wisconsin's No. 1 wideout finished with four receptions for 44 yards on the day.
Purdue made sure that limiting Abbrederis' impact on the game was its biggest priority, and in that regard the Boilermakers succeeded, although they paid the price in other aspects of the game.
The freshman wide receiver was held without a catch, and the only wide receiver to catch a pass against Purdue not named Jared Abbrederis was Kenzel Doe.
That's just the way it's gone for Fredrick, although it's really out of his control. Even with the attention on Abbrederis, Fredrick was unable to have any impact on the game.
Tight Ends: Jacob Pedersen, Brian Wozniak
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For the first time all season, it was Jacob Pedersen's time to shine in the Wisconsin offense.
Matching Abbrederis for a team-high four receptions, Pedersen also caught the only touchdown pass of the game for the Badgers, totaling 77 yards in the process.
Offensive coordinator Matt Canada must have seen something he liked in the matchups involving the Wisconsin tight ends, and he took advantage of the mismatch.
With the way the Badgers ran the ball, kudos also go to Pedersen for aiding with the blocking up front.
Also getting in on the action in the passing game was Wozniak, who caught passes of 19 and 21 yards to have his most successful game of the season in terms of offensive production.
The Badger tight ends combined to eclipse the 100-yard mark for the first time this season. Perhaps this is the beginning of a new trend we will see in the Wisconsin offense.
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To say that the Wisconsin offensive line was dominant on Saturday would be a pretty fair assessment based on the protection it provided Stave and the gaping holes it created for Montee Ball and company.
Stave wasn't sacked once, and the Badgers averaged over eight yards a carry against Purdue. That would support the case that the big uglies up front completely manhandled the Purdue defensive front.
That makes two weeks in a row in which Stave has stayed upright and the rushing attack has flourished, which makes you wonder if this unit has finally turned the corner after getting off to a dreadful start this season.
The cherry on top of the most complete performance this offensive line has had all year? Nobody on the starting unit had a penalty all game long.
There was a scary moment in the second quarter when left tackle Ricky Wagner went down with an apparent right knee injury, but head coach Bret Bielema downplayed the severity of the injury (via Tom Mulhern of the Wisconsin State Journal).
Defensive Ends: David Gilbert, Pat Muldoon
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The junior defensive end ranked fourth on Wisconsin in tackles on the day with four, including 1.5 that resulted in a loss of yardage for Purdue.
He teamed up for a sack with fellow defensive end Pat Muldoon and helped to shut down the Boilermakers' rushing attack completely. Akeem Hunt's 81-yard touchdown run came late in the game when Gilbert was no longer in the game during garbage time.
The man opposite of Gilbert, Pat Muldoon, put up statistics, as far as tackles and sacks were concerned, that were identical to Gilbert's numbers.
With Tyler Dippel out (shoulder), more of the workload fell on Muldoon, and he responded with a gutty performance that resulted in a Purdue offense that only had two big plays the entire afternoon.
Defensive Tackles: Beau Allen, Ethan Hemer
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Allen was held in check pretty well by the Purdue offensive line, as he was only able to record one tackle in the game.
However, the same cannot be said for the Boilermakers' special teams unit, as Allen was uninvaded to the punter even though Wisconsin was running a "punt-safe" protection. The result was a blocked punt with the Badgers leading by 17 late in the third quarter.
Even though Allen didn't get to the quarterback, he helped plug the running lanes to give his teammates the opportunity to make a play.
Hemer only had one more tackle than Allen and didn't have any flashy plays, but again, the defensive tackles for Wisconsin played a bigger role in shutting down the Purdue rushing attack than the naked eye showed.
It's still a little concerning that Hemer and Allen were unable to create much push against a Purdue offensive line that struggled to keep Wisconsin out of the backfield.
Linebackers: Chris Borland, Mike Taylor, Ethan Armstrong
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Leading the team in tackles once again was Chris Borland, who racked up seven tackles, including a team-high two for a loss as he helped shut down Purdue's ground game.
Borland also had a huge sack of Purdue quarterback Robert Marve at the end of the first half to help end any threat of the Boilermakers scoring and to give the Badgers a boost of confidence heading into the break.
It was vintage Borland, who also recovered the blocked punt from Beau Allen. Go figure.
The only knock you could make on Borland was that he was involved in coverage on Purdue's 52-yard pass play that set up its first score, although it didn't appear to be his fault.
Also with two tackles in the Purdue backfield, Mike Taylor recorded five tackles, two of which combined in a total of 14 yards of lost yardage.
Proceeding Borland's sack was the sack of Taylor's, which pushed Purdue back to the 45-yard line, out of field goal range. Another stellar performance for the two studs at linebacker for Wisconsin.
While Armstrong only tallied two tackles against Purdue, he injured his right leg in the fourth quarter and was on crutches after the game.
However, he was moving without crutches on Sunday, according to Jeff Potrykus of jsonline.com, which could be a sign that he will be good to go next week against Minnesota.
Cornerbacks: Marcus Cromartie, Devin Smith
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Cromartie has caught some flak for his tackling ability, and one of his missed tackles against Purdue led to a late-hit penalty on Shelton Johnson.
He only had two tackles, but he does deserve credit for limiting the Purdue aerial assault and keeping his receiver in front of him. Take away the 52-yard completion early on (which wasn't Cromartie's fault), and Purdue throws for well under 100 yards.
Devin Smith did a better job than Cro in the tackling department, bringing four Boilermakers down on the day, but he was partially responsible for the big gain Purdue had on the opening play from scrimmage.
After playing his most complete game of the season against Illinois, according to Bret Bielema, Smith still had an overall plus day in coverage, but he has been burned for some big plays this season.
Safeties: Dezmen Southward, Shelton Johnson
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The brunt of the blame for Purdue's 52-yard pass play in the first quarter has to go to Dezmen Southward, as he was caught out of position.
But he made up for it on the very next possession, intercepting Caleb TerBush to end a mounting Purdue drive and to swing momentum in Wisconsin's favor. He returned the pick 31 yards to the Badgers' 48-yard line to set up Wisconsin's next drive.
Southward was also the team's second-leading tackler, recording five on the game including one for a loss.
It was Johnson's first start since going down with a broken right forearm against Oregon State in Week 2, and it looked like he hadn't missed a beat after returning last week against Illinois.
He had a questionable late-hit personal foul called on him, but thankfully for the Badgers, the drive wouldn't result in any points for Purdue.
Even though Johnson was held without a tackle, he didn't allow any big plays, and the penalty is something that can be excused.